Plastic covering or landscape fabric for garden beds

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DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,272
Central NY
Has anybody used clear plastic or black landscape fabric to put over a weedy area to kill weeds? Does it work? I have a very weedy area and my thought is that I can cover it with one of these two things and after a summer it will kill all the weeds and weed seeds so that I can plant it next year.

Or, does anybody use black fabric or clear plastic to warm up a garden plot so that warmer soil crops can be planted sooner than otherwise?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
91,415
South Puget Sound, WA
I did exactly that for a field with gnarly quack grass. It worked quite well. Use heavy gauge black plastic, at least 6 mil. We've also used it for a weed block and to warm up the soil early. The main problem is that it only lasts a year or two in the sun. Then you have a fragmented plastic mess to clean up.
 

SolarAndWood

Minister of Fire
Feb 3, 2008
6,788
Syracuse NY
Maybe landscape cloth would hold up better?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
91,415
South Puget Sound, WA
That could be true for the second purpose of a weed block and soil warmer, especially if we are talking commercial landscape fabric. For killing weeds, I think solid black plastic might be more effective because it does not pass water through it. For our tough quack grass this was key towards its erradication.
 

SolarAndWood

Minister of Fire
Feb 3, 2008
6,788
Syracuse NY
We have used newspaper for weed eradication with success. I'm considering landscape cloth for the garden. The whole garden gets tilled around the 1st of April before the peas go in. Then, most of it sits empty for 4-6 wks before anything else goes in. Seems like landscape cloth should hold up for many years use for those 4-6 weeks, eliminate the need for a second till and maybe warm the soil.
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,650
Ashland OH
They recommend clear plastic to kill the weeds. The light allows germination, then the extreme heat kills the seedlings that emerge. When its been done, the plastic has been on the area for 1 season, then the next season it is planted. Its used for sterilization of the soil also. I would mow the area down then try it. In order for it to work the plastic must be in contact with the ground. If you wanted to condition the soil then you could plant a cover crop for green manure. Something like rye works well due to its large root system which breaks up the ground, incorporates organic matter, and doesn't allow weeds to grow because of its dense roots. Grandpa uses landscape fabric for his rows, but he doesn't plant in it, but puts it on each side of the plants and uses ceramic tiles to keep it down. That way at the end of the season, it comes right up and he then uses it the next year. Keeps weeding down to a minimum.
 

DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,272
Central NY
Hi Laynes69, BeGreen, I could see both working, for different reasons. What thickness plastic did you use? 4-mil, 6-mil, something else?
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,650
Ashland OH
The thinner plastics will work better for it will reflect less solar energy. I always plow and disc, so I don't worry about the plastic. But others I know have had success with the clear.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
91,415
South Puget Sound, WA
DBoon said:
Hi Laynes69, BeGreen, I could see both working, for different reasons. What thickness plastic did you use? 4-mil, 6-mil, something else?

I used 6 mil for the field. Have tried 4 mil, but it's trash after 1 year. Black absorbs the solar energy and gets nice and hot to bake out the weeds. That's also why it's used to jumpstart garden beds by helping them absorb warmth into the soil.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
91,415
South Puget Sound, WA
That works for landscaping. In that case I might do an industrial strength spray with glyphosate first. But I think the OP wants to put in a garden patch in this spot next year.
 

dave11

Minister of Fire
May 25, 2008
632
Western PA
I have done it several times with great success. It's called "solarization," if you want to go looking for more references.

I see some folks here have used black plastic, but I was told to use clear plastic, which allows more radiant heat to pass through and warm the soil directly. I would also recommend you spend the extra $$ and get 6 mil plastic, as the sun makes it brittle after a month or two, and thinner plastic will start to split, especially if anything solid gets blown on to it or across it.

But it does sterilize the beds very well. Weeds won't come back in force for a couple of years, unless there's a weedy area upwind.
 

DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,272
Central NY
Yes, I do want to use it for a garden next year, and I don't use herbicides or pesticides. I could just plow it under, but if I can sterilize the soil, then that is even better than plowing multiple times.
 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
4,109
SW Virginia
We've used black poly plastic and newspaper with success. The argument for using clear is interesting though.

Be careful removing the plastic though. My wife made all kinds of noise when she pulled our plastic off in spring only to find about a dozen snakes lurking underneath. :)
 

dougstove

Feeling the Heat
Aug 7, 2009
322
New Brunswick, Canada
I use recycled black winter pool covers.
They are very tough and resistant to the sun.
I also tried 'solarizing' with clear plastic, but in my cool climate it just turned into a weed greenhouse.
But black plastic for a season did a great job at composting the sod in place. It was easy to turn in by hand then.
 

Wood Heat Stoves

Minister of Fire
DBoon said:
Yes, I do want to use it for a garden next year, and I don't use herbicides or pesticides. I could just plow it under, but if I can sterilize the soil, then that is even better than plowing multiple times.

till the soil before covering, give the soil some extra npk and organic matter.

also a good time to add long term ferts like soft rock phosphate, and pre composted manure!!
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
91,415
South Puget Sound, WA
Semipro said:
We've used black poly plastic and newspaper with success. The argument for using clear is interesting though.

Be careful removing the plastic though. My wife made all kinds of noise when she pulled our plastic off in spring only to find about a dozen snakes lurking underneath. :)

Yep, they are under there because field mice also like to nest under the plastic. I just pulled up a blue tarp covering some wood and found 4 nice big fat ones scurrying away from their nest.
 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
4,109
SW Virginia
BeGreen said:
Semipro said:
We've used black poly plastic and newspaper with success. The argument for using clear is interesting though.

Be careful removing the plastic though. My wife made all kinds of noise when she pulled our plastic off in spring only to find about a dozen snakes lurking underneath. :)

Yep, they are under there because field mice also like to nest under the plastic. I just pulled up a blue tarp covering some wood and found 4 nice big fat ones scurrying away from their nest.

I think I'd rather have the snakes than the mice. I'm not sure my wife feels the same way though.
 

DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,272
Central NY
Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll be giving this a try in the next few weeks.

Where mice are, snakes are sure to follow :)
 

renewablejohn

Burning Hunk
Mar 5, 2008
239
bolton england
We use foam carpet underlay in strips between rows of vegetables as a weed deterrent. It also acts as moisture retention carpet allowing the rain through but stops evaporation.

We also use green windbreak mesh to cover plants to give a warmer climate and act as a physical barrier to stop butterflies and other pests.
 
I dunno about plowing under plastic like that. I just have a thing about the amount of plastic out there (yes, I am a chemist), but YMMV. Landscape fabric eventually succumbs to weeds/roots growing through. Neither option does what something like shredded leaf mulch will do for the soil in the long run.

I've used lasagna gardening a few times to eradicate grass, weeds, improve the soil, and do little work. Lay down several sheets of newspaper, then put compostables in layers (or 1/2 finished compost) on top and plant in it. Weeds are smothered, worms do the tilling for you, cheap or free, and little work. Just keep topping up with shredded leaves. Of course mulch helps reduce water needs and keep down weeds anyway. Compost is good plant food and reduces several plant diseases (or makes plants more resistant).

I've seen people use discarded carpeting, and a number of other materials as well- it all works, but may not be aesthetically as pleasing as something natural. Again- depends on location and opinion.

My garden could use a serious cleanup. My strawberries have attacked everything.
 

vvvv

New Member
Feb 23, 2010
1,449
MAINE
Adios Pantalones said:
I dunno about plowing under plastic like that. I just have a thing about the amount of plastic out there (yes, I am a chemist), but YMMV. Landscape fabric eventually succumbs to weeds/roots growing through. Neither option does what something like shredded leaf mulch will do for the soil in the long run.

I've used lasagna gardening a few times to eradicate grass, weeds, improve the soil, and do little work. Lay down several sheets of newspaper, then put compostables in layers (or 1/2 finished compost) on top and plant in it. Weeds are smothered, worms do the tilling for you, cheap or free, and little work. Just keep topping up with shredded leaves. Of course mulch helps reduce water needs and keep down weeds anyway. Compost is good plant food and reduces several plant diseases (or makes plants more resistant).

I've seen people use discarded carpeting, and a number of other materials as well- it all works, but may not be aesthetically as pleasing as something natural. Again- depends on location and opinion.

My garden could use a serious cleanup. My strawberries have attacked everything.
any possible leeching of chemicals from the used carpet?
 
Any plastic will have slight residue. Carpet will eventually succumb and start falling apart. I wouldn't worry about the chemicals in the soil- but carpet is, again- plastic that will end up in the soil, so you can swap it out when it starts to disintegrate.
 

Poult

Member
Jan 12, 2008
114
Northern NYS
I started covering my garden with landscape fabric two years ago. I made raised beds with huge amounts of compost and then covered them over and planted through them by making an "X" in the fabric and sticking the plant in. Works great for things like tomatoes, peppers, cabbages/broccoli/kale, and squash type plants. I've seen plantings that have been in ten years and the landscape fabric still looks good. I use this: http://www.catalogclearance.com/products/sku-WB0501__dept-142.html

This stuff is so strong that a cow can walk across it and won't punch through! The only evidence that they had been on the garden was slight depressions in the fabric and manure they left behind. :)

This year I added two more large beds and am looking forward to more weed free gardening.

The one drawback, besides the cost, is that you can't use it on everything. Carrots, spinach, beets, etc., all really need to go in in a conventional bed. I am trying onion plants planted through holes this year, though.

Good luck with the garden!
 
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